Bubble Watch: BMW Championship Round 1
There’s only one automatic qualifying spot left on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, and the results from this week’s BMW Championship will decide who can pack their bags for Whistling Straits.
The top five Americans have already clinched spots in Steve Stricker’s lineup next month: Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas. There are six players in the field this week at Caves Valley Golf Club who can mathematically still reach the No. 6 slot, although Tony Finau holds the inside track following his win at The Northern Trust.
This week we’ll take a look at how things stand after each round in Maryland, as players jockey for position in the hopes of passing Finau in the final event of qualification:
Patrick Cantlay (-6): T-5, 66 in Round 1
Of the six players still in the mix for the final spot, Cantlay sits highest on the leaderboard through the opening round. He blitzed the back nine at Caves Valley, notching six birdies in a seven-hole stretch including five in a row from Nos. 12-17. The problem for Cantlay is that he entered the week at No. 11 in the Ryder Cup race and can only crack the top 6 with a victory. Even then he would need Finau to finish outside the top 4, which at this point is not a sure thing. Cantlay can only control his own result, and he’s done a good job thus far while bolstering his credentials for a possible pick. But there’s still ample work to do if he’s going to emulate Finau with a playoff win of his own, as Cantlay sits two shots off a trio of tournament leaders that includes Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy.
Tony Finau (-5): T-7, 67 in Round 1
Finau didn’t miss a beat after his breakthrough triumph at Liberty National, rolling in eight birdies in his opening round. A bogey-double bogey stretch on Nos. 13 and 14 slowed his momentum, but he followed with three straight birdies to climb back up the leaderboard. Finau entered the week less than 28 points ahead of Xander Schauffele, and with 1.5 points awarded per $1,000 earned, it means that he needs to earn about $19,000 more than Schauffele to maintain that advantage. With both of them sitting at T-7 through the first round, the final qualifying spot is still currently projected to go to Finau despite Cantlay’s strong start.
Xander Schauffele (-5): T-7, 67 in Round 1
Schauffele matched Finau’s opener, rolling in six birdies against a single bogey. It’s a strong start to the no-cut event, but he might need even more if Finau is going to keep up his current pace. Schauffele did not receive any Ryder Cup qualification credit for his gold medal triumph earlier this month in Tokyo, but he remains in strong position to receive one of Stricker’s six captain’s picks. That said, he’d surely rather take care of business this week and clinch a debut appearance next month.
Daniel Berger (-4): T-19, 68 in Round 1
Like Cantlay, Berger comes in as a long shot this week: he can only qualify automatically with a win, and even then he needs to dodge certain high results from Finau, Schauffele and Jordan Spieth. He put together a solid opening round, going bogey-free while pouring in four birdies. But with lift, clean and place conditions in play on a soft course, his 4-under total barely broke into the top half of the 69-man field. Berger hit 16 of 18 greens in regulation but will need to heat up with the putter quickly if he’s going to challenge for his second win of the year.
Harris English (-3): T-29, 69 in Round 1
English’s score represented the middle of the pack on a day when birdies were found in bunches. Like Berger he was bogey-free in the opening round, but could only put a trio of circles on his scorecard including just one of the four par-5s at Caves Valley. English has won twice this year and nearly added a third title last month in Memphis, but he will need to finish solo second or better this week to have any chance of catching Finau for the No. 6 spot. After a solid but unspectacular opening round, he’s got his work cut out for him to pull it off.
Jordan Spieth (-1): T-47, 71 in Round 1
Of the six players in the mix for the final automatic qualifying spot, Spieth struggled the most. Although he ended in red figures it was a rough go from the start, as he played his first 10 holes in 1 over before finding a few birdies coming home. Spieth fell back in surprising fashion Monday at Liberty National, closing with a 79, and he didn’t exactly turn it around with a change of venue. Spieth needs at least a top-10 finish this week to have any chance of reaching the No. 6 spot, but with his opening score combined with strong starts from both Finau and Schauffele those chances have dwindled significantly in short order.